This photo was taken two years ago today. In it I am about to get the Bit of Paper. I am graduating from The Open University with a 2:1 in Humanities with Art History. A learning journey that spanned nine years.
I spent much of that day in tears. Not so much because of the enormity of the occasion, but more because of how life had changed in the time it had taken me to get my degree.
A degree of emotion
I already had a degree when I started studying with the OU. I came straight out of school and into uni to study Media and Cultural Studies with English Literature. I studied as hard as I could. I wasn’t a distracted student for many reasons (that’s another post); I lived at home and travelled in each day and hardly ever stayed beyond lectures and seminars.
But I didn’t achieve the result I wanted. The degree (and a whole lot of work experience) got me my first job as a trainee journalist on the local paper. It was all I had ever wanted. But I still didn’t feel I had achieved my full potential (nod to Ninjago :D).
My mum always said if there was a piece of paper for it, then I had to have it. And she was right. A few years later, with several news stories under my belt, I decided I wanted to write an essay. I wanted to write for a reason other than work. So, inspired by my mother in law’s love of the OU I signed up.
Studying with the OU
At first I only wanted to study an art course. I have always had a love of art and have always wanted to know more about paintings and artists. It was an interest and this studying was going to be a pass time, so the two seemed well matched. To get any form of diploma in art history I needed to study the foundation humanities course first. So I spent a year studying a range of cultural subjects and passed the foundation (one piece of paper!).
The OU then informed me that if I took another course I could get a certificate in humanities (a second piece of paper!). So I went on, and I did that. I remember opening the certificate and thinking: “There, I have done that now. What shall I do next?”
The problem with that question was that the lure of the OU called. Back on their site once more browsing courses, I found I could turn by certificate into a degree with just a few more years work (she says casually).
And so the degree began and I started studying knowing I had at least three or four years of reading, researching and essays ahead of me. I studied through snowboarding holidays. I studied through weekend’s away with friends. I studied through family trips, planning our wedding and the honeymoon.
I was promoted at work. Suddenly the hours were longer and I seemed to be constantly busy and as I finished my course I found I just couldn’t find my study time. So, as the option was there with the OU, I took a break for a year. It makes me laugh now. I thought I was tired and had no time then. I look at life now with three children and realise I had all the time in the world.
The following October I was ready to study again. But then life was about to change unimaginably. My mum fell ill suddenly and died within four weeks. My mum. My champion. My art loving partner. The one I made proud. Was gone.
Six months later I got married. At the end of that academic year I needed a break, so I took another year out. What had been a three, maybe four, year plan was turning into a monster. But still, I needed to get to the end. Always finish what you have started – another few words of wisdom from mum.
And so it was that started the Level three courses which focussed heavily on specific periods of art history and I took on the self-titled dissertation. I even spent a week studying with the OU on their art history study week (sadly, no longer offered). The OU had changed its fees system by now and the fact was, if I was ever going to be able to afford to finish my degree I had to complete back-to-back courses year after year until it was finished. There were no more gap years for me.
The Bit of Paper
After the wedding came, well, babies (eventually). Now here’s a time when you don’t need to be thinking about essays and art gallery trips, but for me the determination to finish this degree over-shadowed it all. I read at 2 in the morning on my Kindle. I made notes while I fed at midnight.The children grew. The essays got longer. The dissertation nearly killed me. The love and support from DH held me up and carried me through.
I cried when I found out I had achieved my longed-for 2:1. But nothing like I cried the day I wore that gown. From the moment I arrived at The Barbican until the moment I arrived home, I cried. That was my day. My day that could never have been realised without the love and support of my family. Those that couldn’t be there and those that were, and those that spent their first full day at nursery so I could be there. To you all – thank you.
As I said at the time: “I started a girlfriend and finished a wife. I started a daughter and finished a mum.”